Saturday, March 17, 2012

WSJ letters: Israel Really Isn't All That Friendly to Its Christians

Regarding Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's "Israel and the Plight of Mideast Christians" (op-ed, March 9): No doubt, his piece will be compelling for many readers. Christians in North America are generally sympathetic to Christians who suffer elsewhere. More negatively, many respond well when blame for that suffering is placed on Muslims. The biggest problem with Mr. Oren's analysis, however, is that it stands in sharp disagreement with the perspectives shared by those he presumably wants to protect. Mr. Oren seeks to speak for Palestinian Christians before he has spoken with them.

Palestinian Christians have produced major studies of Palestinian Christian demographic trends. Difficulties created by Israeli occupation policies far outweigh pressure from Muslim neighbors as reasons for Christian migration from the West Bank. According to a study by the Bethlehem-based Diyar Consortium, "most of those who choose to emigrate" are "aggravated by the lack of freedom and security." At "the bottom of the scale," they found, "are family reunification, fleeing religious extremism and finding a spouse."

It is irresponsible for Amb. Oren to make political points among some segments of the U.S. population by intentionally disregarding factors contributing to Palestinian Christian migration away from their homeland. By blaming their condition on Muslims alone, while ignoring the negative effects of Israeli occupation policies, including the debilitating economic effects of the separation barrier, Mr. Oren is using anti-Muslim sentiments among some Americans to hide the effects of Israeli policy. This cynical political rhetoric fuels extremism and does not promote peace....READ SEVERAL MORE VERY GOOD LETTERS

Few Palestinian youths, or their lawyers, believe they will receive a fair trial.

"Most minors never make it to trial because they usually agree to plea bargains that their lawyers tell them will reduce their sentences. Few Palestinian youths, or their lawyers, believe they will receive a fair trial."

Rights groups criticize Israeli policy of detaining suspected rock-throwing Palestinian kids

BEIT UMAR, West Bank — When Mahmoud al-Alami was 9 years old, an Israeli soldier caught him throwing rocks, took him out of his uncle’s arms, slung him over his shoulders and carried him away.

Mahmoud, now 10, says he was subsequently blindfolded and shackled, slapped and ordered to confess to throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and identify other children doing the same.

Mahmoud is among dozens of Palestinian minors who are detained every month by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, interrogated and pressured to report on others, according to a report issued this week.

The report, by the Swedish branch of the organization Save the Children and the East Jerusalem YMCA, examined the cases of 297 minors aged 17 and under who were detained in 2011, most of them in nighttime raids on their homes after Israeli forces accused them of throwing stones....READ MORE

Jerusalem, Israel — A marathon runner carries Palestinian and Israeli flags as well as a white flag with a peace symbol as he enters the Zion Gate, after passing two Israeli border policemen during the Jerusalem Marathon. It is the second year the Jerusalem Marathon has been organized and the three events, a full marathon, a half marathon and a 10 kilometers run, attracted some 15,000 participants on a chilly and rainy day in Jerusalem.PHOTOGRAPH BY: JIM HOLLANDER / EPA

LA Times: The Week in Pictures | March 12 – 18, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wholesome Food

Jerusalem: a holy city in crisis... Help Justice Prevail

Jerusalem: a holy city in crisis

By Jeremy Moodey

March is when we mark the Women’s World Day of Prayer. The title this year was “Let Justice Prevail”, and it is instructive to look back at previous WWDP themes. Strikingly, back in 1934, even before the creation of the State of Israel, the theme for that Day was Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem.

At that time there were serious Arab riots in Palestine in response to the rising tide of Jewish immigration, much of which was inspired by increasing anti-Semitism in Europe. Almost 80 years on, Jerusalem, the so-called “City of Peace”, remains a deeply troubled city. And since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, things have worsened significantly. Which prompted me to pause and wonder: despite our decades of prayers, why has justice not “prevailed” in this holiest of cities?

Also in the last week, there has been an international conference on Jerusalem in Qatar. Addressed by the UN Secretary General, it debated how Israel’s continued occupation of East Jerusalem, and its policy of illegal settlement, house demolitions and forced evictions, were making prospects for a just and lasting peace in the city ever more distant.

The Israeli government responded angrily to the conference, Premier Netanyahu describing as “contemptible” any language that challenged the status of an undivided Jerusalem as “the eternal capital of the Jewish People.”

This is an issue in which we at BibleLands, the Christian development charity which focuses on the Middle East, have more than a passing interest. For over half a century we have owned and operated a school for visually impaired children in occupied East Jerusalem, the Helen Keller Centre. So we have seen at first-hand how over 40 years of occupation and annexation have changed the character of Jerusalem, and in particular its predominantly Arab eastern half. Education is a key issue.

A UN report on East Jerusalem in May 2011 identified a problem of chronic under-investment by the Israelis in the eastern sector, despite it being half-heartedly grafted onto the Israeli education system, with classroom shortages, sub-standard facilities, and many Arab families forced to pay for private schooling because of the inadequacy of state provision.

The report noted that, despite a 1984 Knesset law guaranteeing free government-sponsored pre-school education, there were just two pre-schools in East Jerusalem, compared to 56 in the predominantly Jewish Western half of the city.

At Helen Keller, as with other East Jerusalem schools, there has also been Israeli interference in the curriculum. Textbooks are censored, with references to Palestinian national identity and consciousness removed, and Palestinian children are obliged to learn the Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, and Ben-Gurion’s 1948 declaration of independence, with their references to “the land of Zion” and to the Jewish nature of the State of Israel. For a population under occupation, these are bitter pills to swallow.

As are the increasing number of house demolitions and settlements. The UN has identified that over a third of East Jerusalem’s land has been confiscated for the construction of Israeli settlements, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding occupied territory.

At the same time, barely 13 per cent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction. The UN estimates that house demolitions, which are now on the increase throughout the occupied territory, have totalled 2,000 in East Jerusalem since 1967.

In February the Israeli authorities announced their intention to demolish 88 Palestinian homes in the suburb of Silwan, to make way for the development of a so-called archaeological park, known as King David’s Garden. If confirmed, the plan would leave over 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The delicate demographic character of East Jerusalem, which currently still has an Arab majority, despite the influx of 200,000 settlers, is being slowly changed beyond recognition. Indeed, if one excludes the 55,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who are on the ‘wrong’ side of the separation barrier, then Israel is not far short of its unstated policy of creating a Jewish majority in occupied (and previously largely Arab) East Jerusalem.

Residency rights are another thorny issue. The UN has noted that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem lack a secure legal residency status, with some 14,000 of them having had their Jerusalem residency revoked by the Israeli authorities since 1967.

Readers of this newspaper will have read about the particular difficulties of the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem in this regard. They have now been diplomatically resolved, but for thousands of other East Jerusalemites there is an uncertain future, and onerous travel restrictions and checkpoints often make it difficult for them to connect with family and friends in the West Bank.

The litany of humanitarian concerns in East Jerusalem is depressingly long. The 2011 UN report ran to 126 pages and also covered issues such as access to healthcare, the absence of a proper planning framework to allow Palestinians to meet what the UN described as “their basic housing and infrastructure needs” and the intolerable burden of checkpoints, only a handful of which Palestinians with permits can actually use (the rest are reserved for settlers).

The Bible challenges us to “loose the chains of injustice” (Isaiah 58:6), and sometimes days of prayer and letters to MPs are not enough, especially when the politicians trot out formulaic replies about a two-state solution which is being rapidly overtaken by events on the ground.

We have to act against injustice, and act now, and where better to start, as we approach Easter, than in the city where the ministry of Our Saviour saw its world-changing climax?

Jeremy Moodey is Chief Executive of BibleLands, the inter-denominational development charity which supports Christian social ministry in the lands of the Bible, including in Israel/Palestine. BibleLands has launched a Lent appeal to help Palestinian families affected by the separation barrier ( All facts in this article are sourced from UN documents. The 2011 UN report on East Jerusalem can be found at

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Palestinians prepare to lose the solar panels that provide a lifeline

"One UN expert, speaking anonymously as they are not authorised to talk to the media, believes the crackdown on the alternative energy movement by the Israelis is part of a deliberate strategy in Area C. "From December 2010 to April 2011, we saw a systematic targeting of the water infrastructure in Hebron, Bethlehem and the Jordan valley," the source said. "Now, in the last couple of months, they are targeting electricity. Two villages in the area have had their electrical poles demolished.

"There is this systematic effort by the civil administration targeting all Palestinian infrastructure in Hebron. They are hoping that by making it miserable enough, they [the Palestinians] will pick up and leave.""

Israel is planning to demolish 'illegal' solar panels that are the only source of electricity for Palestinians in West Bank villages

A Palestinian man looks at a solar panel in the southern West Bank village of Imneizil. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

in Tel Aviv,

Two large solar panels jut out of the barren landscape near Imneizil in the Hebron hills. The hi-tech structures sit incongruously alongside the tents and rough stone buildings of the Palestinian village, but they are fundamental to life here: they provide electricity.

Imneizil is not connected to the national electricity grid. Nor are the vast majority of Palestinian communities in Area C, the 62% of the West Bank controlled by Israel. The solar energy has replaced expensive and clunky oil-powered generators.

According to the Israeli authorities, these solar panels – along with six others in nearby villages – are illegal and have been slated for demolition.

Nihad Moor, 25, has three small children. The family live in a two-room tent kitted out with a fridge, TV and very old computer. She also has a small electric butter churn, which she uses to supplement her husband's small income from sheep farming.

"The kids get sick all the time. At the moment, because of a change in the weather, they all have colds. Without electricity I wouldn't even be able to see to help them when they need to use the [outdoor] toilet at night," Moor says. "I don't want to imagine what life would be like here if [the panels] were demolished."

Imneizil's solar system was built in 2009 by the Spanish NGO Seba at a cost of €30,000 to the Spanish government. According to the Israeli authorities, it was built without a permit... READ MORE


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My letter to The New Yorker 3-12-12 regarding "Threatened" by David Remnick

RE: Threatened by David Remnick

Dear Editor,

Full respect for fair and just laws and universal basic human rights should not be a threatening concept.

Israel is a word- a storied and emotional name for a nation, a sovereign real nation state with many loyal citizens and the institutions and the volunteer efforts necessary for a modern nation state to thrive in a modern interconnected global world: To thrive in order to provide jobs, security and respect for those it acknowledges as full citizens and friends. Religion should be a private matter- not a publicly funded preference.

When Israel stops proffering special perks and subsidies to Jewish individuals and families, Israel will continue to be Israel and its own myths and stories and domestic policies will evolve to become more inclusive and compassionate towards non-Jews and secular activists for real freedom, justice and equality.

In order to once and for all end the Israel/Palestine conflict (and the very real plight of the Palestinians) Palestine needs that window of opportunity too. Palestine needs to be a real nation state with secure borders and the sovereign ability to provide jobs and security for those it acknowledges as full citizens and friends... Two states, two separate identities evolving side by side and entwined with one future of peace, progress and respect for all people, regardless of supposed race or religion.

Anne Selden Annab

"While the politicians on all sides escalate rhetoric and fail to restrain belligerent actions in order to score political points, I urge voices of reason to rise to forestall the spread of wild fire across the region." Ziad J. Asali urges voices of reason to rise to forestall the spread of wild fire across the region

"Religious conservatism invariably focuses on social and sexual control. Women are the most immediate targets and primary focus of the authoritarianism of the religious right, wherever they may be. As Islamists seem to be finally getting their chance at gaining a share of power in the Arab world, the greatest and most immediate danger they pose is to women’s rights. That is why it is up to everyone else, including both secularists and religious moderates, to insist on the introduction of inviolable constitutional principles protecting the rights of individuals, women and minorities." Hussein Ibish: Islamism and misogyny

The Golden Rule... Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Growing Gardens for Palestine
a personal blog

...To Return

A Spider Silk Cape... a series of three poems by Anne Selden Annab in Growing Gardens for Palestine

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Why is it OK for someone who comes from America or Morocco or Russia to be here, but not me?" Youssef Asfour

Israelis: Portrait of a people in tense times

Talk of an existential threat to Israel from the Iranian nuclear programme echoed around Washington last week. Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, described the world's failure to prevent the Holocaust and Barack Obama spoke of the country's sovereign right to defend its people. But what is the nature of the state that has become central to global diplomacy? Harriet Sherwood listens to Israelis across this diverse nation.


NAME: Youssef Asfour

AGE: 40

OCCUPATION: history teacher

LIVES: Jaffa

FAMILY: married, one child, triplets due in May


Youssef Asfour's relatives were displaced in the 1948 war, with some scattering to Lebanon and Gaza and his mother and father ending up in Ajami, an area of Jaffa he describes as a ghetto.

"On both sides, the families lost property and land," he says. "My grandfather used to be a journalist. He finished his life cleaning at a butcher's shop in Carmel [the main Tel Aviv market]."

Despite his Israeli citizenship, Youssef does not consider himself as Israeli, but a Palestinian who lives in Israel. He shows his Israeli identity card. Until 2005, it used to categorise him as an "Arab", but after many court battles ID cards now show a row of asterisks for all Israeli citizens. However, Jews are identified as such by their date of birth, shown according to the Hebrew as well as Gregorian calendar.

"I don't feel part of Israel," he says. "I'm a native here. Why is it OK for someone who comes from America or Morocco or Russia to be here, but not me?"

He points to laws passed in the Israeli parliament, including one permitting communities to bar individuals who don't "fit the social fabric" from buying property and another outlawing the commemoration by public bodies of the Nakba, or catastrophe, suffered by the Palestinians in 1948. "Look at these laws, and you will find the discrimination we suffer," says Youssef.

As a history teacher, he says he is expected to teach a version of events which is disputed by Palestinians. "I think it's a duty to teach both [Israeli and Palestinian] narratives. We need to teach that the Palestinians were here [before 1948], and that the Jews were victims of persecution in Europe. It is a mistake for both sides to ignore the other."

Reaching a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most important issue, he says. "Then all the money that now goes on weapons could be spent on education. If you want real democracy, start by building schools and teaching people how to read and write. This is the real revolution. Violence is never a solution; the solution is in education."...READ MORE